Photographers are always looking for the light. We are constantly looking at how light is hitting objects and if the shadows are hard or soft. Light is a huge topic in photography and this post is a mere starting point in learning about light. After reading this post I want you to start experimenting with various natural light sources and evaluate how the light is helping or hurting your desired image. I recommend using natural light as you begin your journey into photography because it doesn’t cost anything and you can create amazing images when used the correct way.
The goal is to learn how light affects your images, good and bad. It requires a lot of practice to understand what different types of light can do to an image. Morning and evening golden hour light (the time before sunrise and sunset) is some of the best light for various types of photography. Once you have a better understanding you will learn how to manipulate light and shoot images that are in-line with your developing creative voice.
I have passed along the following tip to many parents trying to capture images of their children at home. I actually use this technique for many subject matters, such as, babies, children, adults, pets and food. Find your largest window or sliding glass doors and position your subject looking towards the glass. (You can always diffuse the light by closing curtains if the light is too harsh) Here is the key to this tip, have the light behind YOU or to the side of your shooting position. The goal is to have the window light on your subject, so make sure you move around so your body doesn’t create a shadow on the subject. Many times I find that people are photographing into the light, which will cause your subject to be dark and background overexposed. Practicing this tip will help in your understanding and appreciation of light. Here are examples of using indoor windows and having my main light source at different positions. This will help in SEEING light in a new way.
Outdoor light provides different quality of light depending on the time of day, so it can be challenging. For example, if it’s noon the sun is going to be very intense and cast harsh shadows on a persons face. This can be unflattering and not your desired portrait light. However, if you find a shaded area, like under a tree, you can soften the shadows and use a reflector to bounce light back to your subject. This method is called shooting in “open shade”. Here are some examples to demonstrate various effects. Notice the color and quality of the light in each image.
Golden hour light before sunset (left) // Mid-day sunlight in “open shade” (right)
Warm morning light (left) // Mid-morning sun with reflector (right)
Shooting towards the sun (left) // Afternoon sun with reflector (right)
Now that the effect of light is becoming a bit clearer I wanted to introduce a light modifier, which will bounce natural light around. I always have my Westcott 6-1 Reflector Kit with me on indoor and outdoor photo shoots. Side note: this is not the only reflector kit on the market. There are some great new designs on the market that allow you to hold the reflector by a built-in handle. Additionally, you may only need the white bounce reflector to start and add different size and surface colors later. Another go-to reflector is white foam board. This product can be purchased in various sizes and is inexpensive. Your local craft store will carry foam board to get you started.
The below diagram demonstrates one simple way to apply a reflector or foam board. The reflector is bouncing the window light back to the subject on the side that is darker. If outdoors, locate which direction the light is coming from, position your reflector in the opposite direction and move it around until the desired amount of light is on your subject.
As in previous posts, photography is all about getting out there and shooting. After reading this post you should be looking for the light, both indoors and outdoors. Have fun!